Crammed into the W. Kamau Bell Show
Thursday, June 20 2013
This morning when I was going down to the brownhouse for the first of what would ultimately be only two visits, I managed to startle the "friendly" deer who has been hanging around lately. He'd been beneath the kayaks under the east deck, probably browsing shrubbery. After he startled, he only bounded about 30 feet eastward and then stood there looking at me curiously as I waved at him. I've decided to call him Richard. Richard the Deer. Based on his garden habits, he's something of a dick.
Today Gretchen and I would be attending the taping of Totally Biased, the FX comedy show hosted by W. Kamau Bell, an up-and-coming comedian who is part Chris Rock, part Jon Stewart, with perhaps a dash of Neil deGrasse Tyson. We first learned of WKB when he was interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air a bit less than a year ago, and we've been watching his show, which is often as good as The Colbert Report. So we drove down to New Paltz and caught an Adirondack Trailways bus at the park & ride. Unfortunately, the bus was nearly full and we had to sit with strangers. The bus also had the unpleasant fragrance of whatever had been used to clean its bathroom, and this caused me to mostly breathe through my mouth. By the end of the 90 minute ride, I felt like I was coming down with a cold.
There was big hulk of a man sitting across the aisle from me, and as we entered the Lincoln Tunnel, he started having something of an obsessive-compulsive freakout. He clapped his hands and did other things, muttering "okay!" as if he was about to be launched into orbit. He concluded all this by crossing himself. Unfortunately, the Lincoln Tunnel was running slowly today, and we spent a bit more time below sea level than any of us would have preferred. As we crawled through the streets of Manhattan on our way to Port Authority, he stood in the aisle in the way that passengers are specifically instructed not to do. Gretchen was trying to talk to me about something, and I kept shooting glances at the back of the guy's head some four feet above me, and this instinctively made Gretchen look as well (though from where she was sitting she had to look at his face). She caught his eyes on one of these occasions and immediately apologized.
From Port Authority, we caught a subway Uptown to the American Museum of Natural History stop (which, on the northbound platform, features numerous beautiful mosaics of creatures living and extinct). Our destination here was not the museum but one of the vegan Blossum restaurants, for which Gretchen thought she had a gift card (though it turned out that the gift card was for a different Blossum). We sat out in front, drank coffee, ate two platters of mushroom ravioli, and then had separate entrees featuring delicious seitan (mine was a sandwich that came with overly-fancy fries).
The streets of the Upper West Side testified to an urban Caucasian fecundity otherwise hard to observe in New York City. Judging by the many spherical bellies pushing out sundresses, one might conclude that a minor baby boom is underway. Of course, once those bellies have flattened and their contents joined the company of the air-breathing multitude, one normally only sees the larval Caucasians in the company of black women, all of whom I assumed to be nannies from Jamaica.
After lunch, we took a subway back downtown to 34th Street and then walked east to the NYU Clinical Cancer Unit. Our friend Sarah the Korean (who has never been Korean) was there getting chemotherapy as a precaution against some very early-stage breast cancer that has already been surgically removed. The chemotherapy has made Sarah crave thick gravies and mushy starches, so Gretchen had prepared her Isa's famous punk rock chick pea gravy with mashed potatoes. When we arrived, Sarah was hooked up to an IV tube receiving a saline solution, but she was about to get really sleepy in the Lazy Boy reclining chair she'd been provided. For some reason we talked about my greenhouse project but for I got around to asking her what chemotherapy was like. She said that it made her mouth taste like an ashtray and that, though it's gotten gradually better, the first time it felt like a really bad hangover coupled with the flu. Sarah looked surprisingly good given the shit she is going through. Having lost most of her hair, she covers her head with a hankerchief.
We only had about 20 minutes to spend with Sarah before hurrying west down 34th Street to the place where WKB would be shooting his show. Since there aren't good subways on the east side of Manhattan north of the East Village, we caught a bus. But there's a new procedure on buses whereby the driver doesn't actually interact with the riders. The riders are on the honor system to have purchased a ticket, but since there is no honor among bus riders, this is enforced by transit police who interrogate riders at random to see if they have their ticket. This reminds me of the way trolleys worked in San Diego (and yes, I got busted once for riding the trolley without having a ticket).
Totally Biased is recorded way up on the sixth floor of a building on 34th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. The studio actually looks like an old theatre from the 20s, complete with a lavishly-decorated ceiling (though it's hard to see it through the grid of steel trusses holding overhead lights). A surprsingly large group of people had been given tickets to today's studio audience, and it took awhile to wind our way up into the recording studio. Since Gretchen and I had run a little late, we were among the last people to be seated. But instead of turning us away (which Jon Stewart's people had once done), some extra chairs were found and we were seated by the frazzled-but-kind audience wranglers in an alcove with a surprisingly non-terrible view of the proceedings. Freakishly, we were seated behind someone Gretchen had met only last weekend, someone her friend Marissa had babysat as a kid back in Indiana.
The show was recorded in four segments (Colbert is in three) and it followed the familiar pattern of news, skit, interview, and then final crazy combo crescendoing with a performance of "the Star Spangled Banner" in Spanish (mocking a recent right wing freakout about a Hispanic American boy who sang the song in English). WKB likes the classic comedy technique where things get really crazy and absurd as we cut to break. For example, in a segment today there were a couple policemen puppets beating an African American puppet while WKB recorded it on his iPhone.
Between segments, a warm-up comedian (a fat white guy with an absurd only-in-comedy sort of voice) did standup routines to keep us laughing. The big interview was with Charlie Price of the musical adaptation of Kinky Boots. The interview went on beyond the televised segment, something I've heard about but not actually seen happen in the studio. (Gretchen and I have been in the audience for both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.) WKB is still sort of new to doing the show and occasionally seems a little uncomfortable (the way I remember Stephen Colbert being early in his show). So I shouldn't have been surprised that on a couple occasions at the beginning of a segment, WKB flubbed his lines, made the lip noise one makes when acknowledging that fact, and did the take a second time.
When the show was over, WKB recorded some promos for his future show on FXX, and then called his wife, his little daughter, and father out on stage. And then he seemed to get choked up by how awesome everything was.
After the show, the audience was drained down six stories of staircase and out onto 34th Street. From there, Gretchen and I walked north on 9th Avenue looking for a place to get a cocktail. (Restaurants in New York tend to be better the further one goes from touristy areas, so we were trying to stay west of all the Times Square craptasticality.) We ended up at a place called Market Café, whose tables closest to the avenue were in alcoves that had been made completely open to that avenue, giving us the benefits of outdoor dining without quite as much solicitation from bums and girls selling cookies. It happened to be happy hour, so our $10 drinks were only $5. I ended up having two delicious margaritas and Gretchen had some boozy bourbon girlie drink. We also ordered a surprisingly good hummus plate, though the menu was otherwise unwelcoming to vegans. There's a bike lane on 9th Avenue, and a good fraction of the bikes were those new Citibike rental bikes. For just $95/year, one can borrow one of these bikes as much as one wants to. And because the bikes are pre-positioned everywhere, they are far more useful than a privately-owned bicycle. (It's one of the few examples of a transportation system that benefits from human network effects.) We were also reminded of a segment we'd seen on the Colbert Report where a crazy right wing nutcase had railed against this bike rental system because, she insisted, bicyclists are "the most important danger in the city" and there are neighborhoods that are "absolutely begrimed" by bicycles. It seems any transportation technique that doesn't burn fossil fuels is a posthumous gift to Adolf Hitler.
We showed up at Port Authority just as our bus was loading its final passengers, and we ended up in a seat near the back. This bus didn't smell as a bad as the one this morning, but it nonetheless felt as if we had entered a dog's mouth. I thought once we got rolling the air conditioner would fire up and all would be well, but evidently the problem was worse than all that, and we had to relocate to another bus.
Once we got to the New Paltz park & ride, I drove Gretchen to Lagusta's bakery (in New Paltz), where she would be participating in this month's special vegan meal. She'd had an extra ticket, but I'm not into super-foodie experiences, so she'd had to find someone else to attend it with her (in addition to Sarah the Vegan, who had also signed up for this meal and who would be Gretchen's transportation back to Hurley).
In the end, the New Paltz vegan cookie guy whom Gretchen had promised the meal ticket to was a no-show, so Gretchen brought me home a tub of incredibly delicious Lagusta food. Just eating it and not talking about it was perfectly okay with me. But I should mention that Lagusta's theme this month was "foraging," and so the food included various items that can be found in local forests and fields. My favorite item was a wild oyster mushroom that had been breaded and fried. It was one of the most delicious things I've eaten in awhile, and I've eaten some damn delicious things.
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